10/07/2004 6:14 PM ET
Sellout crowds fuel Fenway Factor
Sox last clinched playoff series at home in 1986
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- From the soothing warm air and the picturesque palm trees, the vibe will shift dramatically on Friday afternoon, as the Red Sox will be back in their house for Game 3 of this American League Division Series.
|This year, the Sox were the fourth team in baseball history to sell out a full season. (Winslow Townson/AP)
As nice a venue as Angel Stadium is, and as much success as Boston had in the first two games, the Sox will take Fenway Park anytime.
Last year, the crowd helped lift Boston from the depths of a 2-0 Division Series deficit. This time around, the Sox will lean on Fenway to help them close out the Angels.
"We're excited about getting back to Fenway," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We've been on the road for 11 or 12 days now. Fenway's been nice to us. Hopefully, it will continue to be nice to us."
The Sox thrive in their home park, which might as well be labeled Intensity Central. After going 53-28 at home last year, the Sox were even better this season, going 55-26.
"That place is wild enough during regular season games," said Sox closer Keith Foulke. "I can't imagine what it's going to be like when we get back home. We have to keep our emotions in check and take care of business."
Like Foulke, Boston manager Terry Francona was on the other side as the A's bench coach a year ago while his team unraveled on the road against the Red Sox in October. He knows full well the importance of the Fenway Factor.
"Coming into this, I didn't think I really believed in the home field advantage, besides the fact that you hit last," said Francona. "But at Fenway, we have a true advantage."
One obvious reason is the crowd. The Red Sox played in front of a sellout crowd for all 81 home games, and last played in front of less than a capacity home gathering was on May 14, 2003.
The fans don't just show up; they are loud. They get there early and stay until the last pitch, regardless of the score.
"It could be the seventh inning, and when somebody throws ball one for the opposing team, that place erupts like no place I've ever seen," said Francona.
Players such as Manny Ramirez, Damon and Kevin Millar aren't shy about interacting with the fans, even during the game.
"We have the best fans in the whole world out there, man," said Ramirez. "Especially when I am running to left field, I point to the fans [sitting in the Monster Seats], and they just love that. They love me a lot there."
During his two years as general manager, Theo Epstein has carefully constructed a team that would thrive amid the cozy hitting confines of Fenway.
David Ortiz and Bill Mueller have taken their games up a level since coming to Boston. Second baseman Mark Bellhorn is also having a career year.
"We are a better team at home," said Francona. "I think we acknowledge that. I think we are built for our ballpark better. I don't think it's a coincidence that our hitters are better at home. The left-handed hitters are used to the wall, they know how to use the field, things like that."
The last time the Red Sox clinched a playoff series at Fenway Park? Game 7 of the 1986 American League Championship Series. The opponent? The Angels.
Eighteen years later, the Sox will be looking to do the same thing.
Said catcher Jason Varitek: "We have to stay focused and play solid baseball, starting with our pitching, starting with Bronson [Arroyo] when we get home."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.